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Brain cells may be kept alive by learning in adolescence

It makes sense to use your brains– especially during your adolescence! This may not only help your cerebral cells survive—it could determine the functioning of your brain after puberty. These findings are published in the latest issue of Frontiers in Neuroscience.

In experiments conducted by Rutgers behavioural and systems neuroscientist Tracey Shors, new-born brain cells in young rats that were successful at learning flourished while those in rats that failed to learn ‘died quickly.’

“In these non-learning rats, nearly half of the brain cells were missing three weeks after they had been made—meaning, they has died” said Shors, professor in the Department of Psychology and Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers. “In those that learned almost all of them were alive.”

The study suggests that young animals are able to leave the protectiveness of their mothers and fend for themselves because of the massive proliferation of new brain cells.

For years scientists have known that learning can save neurons in adult rats but what they did not know is that this theory applies equally to young rats that produce two to four times more neurons than adult animals.

“Learning does not make more cells,” says Shors. “It simply keeps alive new cells alive that are already present at the time of the learning experience.” Since nearly all animals including humans produce new brain cells the same way, it is critical to ensure that adolescent children learn at optimal levels.

Shors says this study on the cellular level yields a clear picture of “what happens in the adolescent brain and its amazing ability to reorganize itself and form new neural connections through adolescence, which is a highly transformational time in our lives.”

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